In this day and age, almost everything that can be accessed in stores can be found online. There are shopping sites like Amazon and eBay to order what we need. We have streaming services, like Netflix and Hulu, to watch our favorite shows and movies in the comforts of our own homes. There are even companies like Audible, Kindle, and Epic! where we can have access to thousands of online books to read or listen to on a device. With this advancement in technology, more kids have started reading e-books instead of actual books. But, what effect will this have on them in the future?


How Technology affects us—and not in the way you might think!

I recently read an article on MindShift by Holly Korbey which talks about how digital text changes how kids read in a way we might not think of. My initial reaction was that digital text was causing negative effects on kids reading skills, but this was simply not the case. Daniel T. Willingham, a cognitive scientist, says that there are both good and bad aspects of digital reading. He actually wrote a whole book, called The Reading Mind: A Cognitive Approach to Understanding How the Mind Reads, where he explores a very important skill—of course, I’m talking about reading! A lot of activities that kids partake in like texting and social media, sometimes even gaming, won’t be influencing their reading comprehension. Kids aren’t being exposed to big vocabularies, Willingham says, as most of their encounters will be from reading captions on Instagram posts or Snapchat messages.

In fact, it’s not digital reading that concerns Willingham. It’s the fact that activities like playing video games will train kids to crave fast-paced activities and push reading physical books to the side. It’s no secret that kids are spending more time in front of screens with each passing day. He explains that with technology at the tip of our fingers, it’s easy to find something else to do when one gets bored.

Let’s make reading fun!

As a child, I remember participating in summer reading challenges at my local library. My mom would take my sister and I to check out a few books and set time aside each day to read them. After reading a certain amount of books, we would earn prizes. My family and I even had a chart on our fridge where we earned star stickers each time we did our reading for the day. Once we completed a row, my mom and dad gave us a special treat, usually consisting of a sweet snack. This was something we did together, as a family, and I can say that it definitely got me to read! Your local library might have activities like this, too, so keep an eye out! If not, you can always start your own reading challenge at home.

Watermelons or Chocolate?

“It’s watermelon or chocolate for dessert. I love watermelon and so do my kids, but chocolate is more tempting,” Willingham says. “I want my kids to enjoy chocolate, but I want them to eat watermelon because it’s a little more enriching and it’s a different kind of enjoyment.” It’s nice to have a sweet treat once in a while, but the more you have it the less enjoyable it will be. It’s like taking care of a hamster or another small pet. You have to change up its environment once in a while or it will simply get bored. So, it’s nice to take a break and try, or in this case eat, something different to really enjoy it. It’s important to slow down and enjoy the slower pleasures of reading once in a while. Willingham is all for limiting screen time to let kids discover the beauty of reading. Try and think about how the environment is in your home right now. Are good examples being set to show limitations in certain activities? If not, try implementing this idea of watermelons over chocolate idea and see what happens.

Pay Attention

Julie Coiro, a reading researcher at the University of Rhode Island, says that reading online requires even more attention than reading a book. With so many links to other sites, there is so much more information to process. And, unlike books, online reading can bring up more questions that can be answered right then and there.

“Now that process happens repeatedly in about 4 seconds: I choose a link. I decide whether I want to be here/I don’t want to be here, and then, where should I go next?” Coiro says. The brain is constantly focusing on what choice to make and what links to click. The digital reading company Epic! tries to keep digital reading as close to a book as possible and tries their best to keep ads, videos, and links outside of the reading.

Why does this matter?

Here at TomTod, we like to be engaged with our students. We go to several schools every week and work with them in hands-on activities. As we continue to work closely with students, our aim is to develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills to help further their view of the world and its ever-changing communities.  Not only is reading a good activity for the brain, but it is a good way to help teach kids to learn about forming good habits. Having your kid sit down each day at a designated time to read can help them form good habits later on. With a combination of good reading habits and these skills, middle schoolers will be more prepared to face the challenges of the changing environment around them.



It’s no question that the brain is going through changes as children enter adolescence and begin to transition into adulthood. Teenagers especially are becoming more aware socially, taking increasing amounts of risks and being influenced by the pressure of their peers. When I was in middle school, you could take a language or health in eighth grade. I wanted to take French, but it was only offered in high school at the time, so I decided to take health. Although, my school’s version of health was how to eat right and be healthy. The brain is certainly something worth keeping in good health, and it wouldn’t be a bad idea to learn about. If schools incorporated the idea of teaching more on the brain,  teenagers can be more prepared and have answers to questions about why they feel certain ways. Here at TomTod, we want the young people that we work with to be successful. In order to encourage them further, it takes a little understanding of some of the processes they might be going through.

Elissa Nadworny recently wrote an article on MindShift about the ever-changing teenage brain and the importance of understanding it. She interviewed  Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, author of Inventing Ourselves: The Secret Life of the Teenage Brain, to key in on how adults think, problem solve, and learn. We think the concepts found in this book are so worthwhile, that our staff are each actually working through reading the book on their own!

Here are three points she makes throughout the interview about a healthy brain:

Catching Some Zzzz’s

First, there’s sleep. While it can be a common struggle of the modern teen, it can also be their best friend. Blakemore wants people to know that sleep is important— more than we might think. Teenagers tend to stay up later because of this, resulting in being more tired in the morning. According to Blakemore, some schools that have been adjusting start times to determine any educational benefits for students.

Knowing Ourselves

In order to understand and ask why we must know a subject thoroughly. Blakemore touches upon the importance of teenagers learning about their own brains. Teenagers are more vulnerable to mental illness at this age and often have their first experience with it during these years. It’s important that they begin to understand the biological and social reasons why. Educators can be implementing lessons about the teenage brain into biology courses. But, they aren’t the only ones. Parents can also help by encouraging and educating their kids about the different types of struggles they might start to go through at this age.

Being Social, but not too social

Social media, although it can be fun, can come with consequences that can take effect on us that we probably don’t notice. Blakemore mentions that the young people she works with don’t turn their phones off at night and respond to messages throughout the night, which has its effects on sleep that is needed for proper mental health and learning. Teenagers don’t want to feel left out. They want to fit in with their friends. Social media gives them an opportunity to be engaged in social connections all throughout the day. At this point in their lives, teenagers look to peers or elders as examples that help shape them as they grow into adolescence. Parents can help to set good examples by showing good habits early on. Not being on social media for long hours during the day can have more effects than one might think on a young teen. Talking about how to stay safe while on social media is a good topic to introduce to teenagers so they can be wary of what’s going on in their social media and try to stay out of trouble with others.

I encourage you to read this entire article. It’s important to be aware of how our own bodies work—especially our brains! The human brain is so powerful, and we can’t function without it.  Here at TomTod, we encourage young people to understand more about themselves as they make this transition into adolescence. We encourage young people to find their voice and share their ideas.


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